How To Introduce New Worship Songs

Photo by Melvin Gaal (flickr.com) - Used under the Creative Commons License
Over the years I have tried a variety of different methods of introducing a new worship song to a band and to various congregations. Every church and congregation is different, so do feel free to use those ideas that will work in your context and ignore those that won't. This blog is kind of an 'up-date' of where I am and where my church is at the moment in so far as introducing new songs goes. I am pretty sure we will give these ideas a try, but in a year or two's time will be looking for further ways of trying to refine and improve this process. Anyway, this is how we are about to try to introduce new worship songs within our context at present:

One of the most radical changes to the way we have done things in the past is introducing a 'New Songs Listening Evening'. The key focus being on listening!

Problems in the Past

In the past I used to send a YouTube link and chord chart attached to an email to everyone who would be at band rehearsal that week, ask them to have a listen and then we would try it during the rehearsal. However, there were a few problems with this:

  • Some would not listen to the track, or not listen properly!
  • When we listened to the track together at band rehearsal, everyone waited for the first verse to finish, then started trying to bash it out on their instrument.
  • There was no consistent/regular approach to the introduction of new songs - it just happened as and when the worship leader found a new song.
  • Different worship leaders lead the song differently with a different arrangement - this was challenging and confusing for the musicians and vocalists.
  • The worship leaders had not discussed how and when the new song would be introduced to the congregation - it just kind of happened, or it did not. There was also no evaluation mechanism in place where the worship leaders got together with the leaders to ask 'So, does this song work? Shall we keep it or shelve it?'

New Songs Listening Evening

So this is the plan: we are going to introduce a 'Listening Evening' about once every 6 months. This time frame is realistic for our church context. realistically within that time we hope to introduce about 3-4 new songs, so this is how many we will listen to at the 'Listening Evening'.

Before the evening:

  • Worship Leaders (& Church Elders/Pastors) get together to help select / narrow down which new songs to select. Ask 'Will this work for my church?' NOT 'Is this in the Christian Top 10 Charts?'. You are there to serve your congregation, not to be cool or popular by playing the hottest Christian songs every week.
  • Worship Leaders work through the song structure - make notes. Stick to the same structure and arrangement so there is consistency and unity. Also decide on the key, or keys for the song. The other worship leader at my church is a female, so her vocal range is very different to mine. Having a comfortable key for her voice, and for my voice is a good idea. However if we can make the song to be in a single key and be comfortable fro both male and female vocal ranges, this is the best option of all.
  • My church subscribes to CCLI's Song Select service, so I would email the band with the song title and the key (or keys) for each song. They will then go to their Song Select account and print off their copy of the song (lyrics, or chord chart, or sheet music - they can decide). If the song is not available on CCLI, I will email a chord chart version attachment to everyone and remember to report this in my annual MRL report to CCLI.
  • Check the lyrics are loaded onto the worship lyrics presentation software on the laptop.

At the evening:

  • Have an audio version of each song ready and available (whatever format you prefer) but make sure it is going to be loud enough for everyone to hear.
  • I am planning to have this on a Sunday evening as hopefully everyone will be available and not off busy with something else.
  • We are meeting in a smaller room than band practise, and also a bit more comfortable.
  • Musicians are instructed NOT to bring their instruments, just their ears, their chord chart / sheet music and a pen.
  • We then take one song at a time. Listen to it carefully. Listen again, picking out various instruments and what they are doing.
  • Each musician should make notes of what their particular instrument is doing and where it is doing it.
  • Identify the dynamics - where does it get louder / softer.
  • Identify the rhythm and the groove - and how fast the song is (tempo).
  • Also discuss how your church is going to approach the song within your setting, range of instruments etc. I am a strong believer in not having to sound like the CD! Be yourselves, make the song your own. But listening to how someone else has doing it first can be a great starting point.
  • Repeat for each song.

Rehearsing the New Song

Now that everyone has heard the song properly, thought about their part of the arrangement, had time to rehearse on their own at home, annotated their copy of the chords / lyrics, it is time to rehearse the song as a band.

  • Do not start the rehearsal with the new song. Start with something familiar so the band gels together, finds their feet and gets comfortable. Use this well know song as a good time to worship together without having to focus so much on the musicality or structure of the song.
  • A little way in to the rehearsal, you can try the new song.
  • The first time we play a new song together I give the band a lot of grace and space to simply 'bash though' it.
  • If there is time we will then have a look again at the structure and dynamics we had discussed and made notes of a the listening evening, then try it again. This may happen the second week of trying the new song.
  • Then we will work on melodic parts, if their is a specific intro or riff. This may be the third week.
  • Hopefully by the fourth week, we have a pretty good handle of the song, how it goes and what our part is. The worship leaders will then decide if the song is ready to introduce to the congregation.

Introducing the New Song to the Congregation

So the band is ready, the song is pretty well 'polished' and everyone in the music group is confident on how the song goes and what their part of the musicality and arrangement is. It is now time to introduce the new song to the congregation.
  • Just like with the band, do not start the service with a brand new song. Give the congregation time and space to 'settle in'
  • It is sometimes helpful to explain 'Today we are doing a new song. Have a listen and feel free to join in with us when you feel comfortable'. You may also need to explain the meanings of unfamiliar words such as 'Adonai' or 'Jehovah' to help everyone know what they are singing.
  • Play the song, make sure the words are clearly displayed. Don't be disappointed if it feels a little 'flat' on its first airing - people are just getting used to it. Remember, this is the first time they have ever heard the song even though you know it inside-out.
  • I would then include the new song in my set list every week for about four weeks. This will help the congregation to become familiar with it and learn it. This is also about the right amount of time for you and the rest of the leadership team to judge the song's effectiveness and then decide if you keep the song and add it to your Master List, or to shelve it.
If you have any other tips or suggestions of how you introduce new worship songs to your church, I would love to hear from you. Add them to the comments section below.

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